After failing to ink a performance contract with a local four-star hotel four years ago, Tony Remedios decided to brave the journey from Mombasa –anyway.
“Things were low in Mombasa at the time. Jobs were down, and tourists were scarce,” the singer reminisces.
His efforts to seek greener pastures in Kigali were put to test when the owner of The Manor Hotel, with who he was negotiating a contract travelled abroad for three months.
“One day, a friend from Kigali called me and said: “Tony, if you have the money, come to Kigali by flight, if you don’t have it, hop on a bus.”
The friend promised to accommodate, feed, and take Remedios around Kigali.
His wife, he says, encouraged him with two simple words: “just go”. Interestingly, the two were just singing together at the time, and it is only much later that they would get hitched. Today, they are husband and wife, and blessed with two children, a daughter and son.
The wife stays in Kenya with the kids, while Tony stays in Kigali. Whenever she visits, the two pair up on stage at his gigs like they have been doing for the last ten years. Back in Kenya with the kids, she is just a housewife though, and completely shelves the singing.
A day after he arrived in Kigali, Remedios hit the city’s night life, out on a mission to discover its musical flavours. His first stop was the Mille Collines Hotel, popular for its dedication to authentic live band music.
“I found a guy called Papy, a very talented singer playing that night. I asked to play on stage and he freely allowed me to, and I remember that night, I thought I received more applause than Papy. In fact, I was asked to come back the next week due to public demand.”
Unknown to him, in the crowd was a marketing team from the Kigali Serena Hotel, who immediately made their interest in him known, and asked if he could perform at the Serena as well.
That was not all. News of Remedios’ gripping performance also reached The Manor Hotel, from whose owner he received a call the following day
“When I went to meet him, he immediately pulled out a contract and put it on the table, ready to sign. He convinced me to take up a management job, and slowly talked me into playing music in the evenings as well.”
Soon, however, the effects of juggling the two roles started to manifest:
“I was doing up to 18 hours in a day. From 8:00 am, I worked as the hotel manager, all day long. From 7:00-10:00 pm, I was on stage singing, after which I went to manage the O’Connell’s bar, which closed at 2:00 am. I did this for seven months then quit.
After all, Papy, who had introduced him to the Mille Collines stage was in poor health, and indeed had contacted Remedios to relieve him of some of his load.
“Papy was playing 4-5 nights at Mille Collines, but citing poor health, requested me to relieve him of two of the nights, starting with one.”
On a day off from his hectic schedule at The Manor Hotel, Remedios hit the Mille Collines stage once again, and has never looked back since. After all, the pay was not bad at all, and he was not about to complain:
“I was earning $1,000 for the four nights I played in a month. At The Manor, I was being paid US D 1,500 for all that work,” he adds.
Things went well afterwards, and soon, he was attracting private gigs as well.
When the team of marketers from Serena caught him doing his thing at Mille Collines a second time, they simply asked him to take some of his expertise to the hotel as well. He soon had two nights exclusively to himself at the Serena, where he plays to this date.
Presently, he plays at this and one other venue – the Eldorado Hotel, in Gishushu, and he does anything from 60s and 70s Classics, Reggae, Blues, Jazz, Soul, Country, even a few of the local and regional favourites.
Joining the music industry
Remedios first tried a musical instrument in 1965, while in Standard Seven in Mombasa.
“My eldest brother bought an old guitar at Ksh100, and did some repairs on it. However, poor guy never got to play the instrument himself, leaving it instead for me and my siblings. My father played the mouth organ and was very good at it, so I guess we got the music from him. I started with the rhythm guitar, moved to the base guitar, and on to the keyboard.”
He worked briefly for a school band, where he would cut his musical teeth, especially as pertains to live band music.
The experience also inspired him to start his own bands –three in all; the Simba Six, and Spartans (1 and 2).
“In very few words, music is the best tablet I take – the best medicine, tranquilizer, pain and stress killer … that is what music is to me,” he explains, adding: “I can leave a dead body in my house, but if I go out on stage, you will not know that I have a dead body in my house. That’s how good music is.”
Born and raised in Mombasa, Remedios is of Asian origin, hailing from the Goa state of India. His father is from Goa, and mother from Kakamega, in Western Kenya, although also of Goan descent.